A Matter of Perspective

This is a subject I’ve stumbled upon recently by rambling with my friend yet again about my frustrations with how dogmatic other people seem to be about how you should be writing your stories a certain way.  It’s a very simple fact that I’m not sure many people really know or acknowledge at least, and it’s not something that people are probably going to teach you in writing classes at all.

The main focus character of your story should directly be affecting your writing style and the narrative around it.  This is especially true for first person novels, but it does, in fact, apply to third person as well.

When it comes to first person novels, everything is being told to you by the main character.  You’re seeing everything through their eyes and they are the narrator.  The obvious conclusion to draw here is that they, personally, are affecting the story, because you are seeing it only as they see it, and there is probably going to be vital information missing because they are not going to have all the answers themselves (unless you as an author decide to just spill out an info dump to give all the answers, but I’d rather not get into that tangent).

Third person novels can be a bit trickier on this subject.  You can have multiple focus characters, or you can have the narrator of the story be a character in and of themselves and make them an omniscient perspective.  But there’s also third person limited where it is clearly focused on one single character and, while we’re not seeing it directly from their eyes, the narrative around it is still clearly a part of their own personal perspective.

Perspective narration can and should affect the style of your prose.  There seems to be a default style of prose that people expect you to write in, regardless of characters.  They expect a certain amount of detail– both visual details and plot details– even when it technically doesn’t make sense that the POV character would notice any of these details.  Now it’s fine to do this in some stories, but it shouldn’t be expected that every single story should operate under this sort of style.

Some characters might not be aware of certain details, and thus the narration should not divulge it.  Some characters might not notice/care about details, so again, it’s not necessary to talk about it.  And then you’ve got your unreliable narrator characters, where everything is put through a filter that you shouldn’t trust completely.  Maybe some details are off, because it’s simply their perception of something, but not necessarily what is actually real.

While you can write a story that is straight forward and giving the reader all of the facts and details that are actually happen, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, there should be stories that are filtered through a specific character’s perception of what is happening around them as well.  It will change the way we look at things, it will change the writing style itself, and there is nothing wrong with that, either.  In fact, I think this should be encouraged more often, because it also helps build stronger characters.

So before you complain about not getting all the information that you could in a scene, maybe stop and think about whether or not the perspective character would/should know it.  Allow yourself to step into someone else’s shoes while reading a book, and maybe you’ll find yourself sucked in just a bit more.


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